If you hadn’t noticed, teenagers are in an overactive state of emotion most of the time. It doesn’t take much to bring them to the point of exasperation. They can only take so much pressure before they shut down or act out of frustration or anger instead of clear or right thinking. Sometimes they’re provoked to the point of putting up walls of protection around themselves.
There is nothing so demeaning as assuming your child can’t think for himself. There is nothing so disrespectful as throwing your child’s mistakes back in his face and condemning him. Keep in mind that I am referring to teenagers here, not your 2-year-old.
When a teenager’s behavior is way out of line, when he or she crosses established boundaries and offends us and makes us angry, it is easy to think he or she doesn’t deserve grace. But that may be exactly the right time to give it.
I have never heard a mom publicly announce, “I want my daughter to be perfect,” and I have never heard a dad audibly declare, “I want to force my authority on my son.” And, I’ve never heard parents say, “We want to be judgmental parents.” For I’ve heard hundreds of daughters say, “My mom wants me to be perfect.” And I’ve heard an equal number of sons say, “My dad rules our home with an iron fist.” And I’ve heard thousands of kids say, “My parents are the most judgmental people I know.” Somewhere between our intent and our execution, those can be the very desires we communicate to our kids.
For Lucas, it started in high school. “I guess I have a face and personality that invites bullies,” he told me. Kids in class would ridicule Lucas’ clothes, mock his behavior, laugh at where he came from, and deride him constantly. But in teen culture, you can’t show weakness. Teens know that if you let on to bullies that they’re affecting you, you’re giving them an open invitation to continue the abuse. So Lucas put on his impervious face each day, and endured the barrage of mistreatment at school. But that kind of ill-treatment wears you down. “When I would finally come home,” explained this young man, “the littlest thing would set me off. I mean, my mom would ask me to take out the trash and I could feel the anger building. At first I wouldn’t talk, but that made my mom mad, so eventually all this anger would just, kinda, explode. I would yell, throw things, break things. My mom didn’t know what to do.”
What is it about teenagers that makes it so easy for them to get under our skin? We love our kids, for sure. But between the ages of 12 and 20, teens really start to develop and refine the unique ability to raise our blood pressure! Maybe it’s because we care about our kids so much that they can invoke such strong reactions in us. I’ve loved every one of the 2,500 kids who have made their way through the doors of our Heartlight campus. But let me tell you; there were times I was so frustrated with a teen’s behavior or attitude, I was about ready to put him on the next ferry to Iceland and wish him Bon Voyage!
Ready for a pop quiz? What are the two habits that will destroy your relationship with your teen and are guaranteed to make parenting a wasted effort? Answer: disrespect and dishonesty. Those two noxious weeds can creep in, and uproot entire families. And left un-weeded and untamed, they’ll only grow and spread their roots to areas outside the home. So how do you uproot disrespect and dishonesty from your teen?